Review: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

dangerous place by Jacqueline winspearFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover ebook, audiobook, large print
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #11
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: March 17, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Maisie Dobbs returns in a powerful story of political intrigue and personal tragedy: a brutal murder in the British garrison town of Gilbraltar leads the investigator into a web of lies, deceit and danger

Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way.

My Review:

maisie dobbs by jacqueline winspearCompared to how much I loved the two other books in the Maisie Dobbs series that I have read, Maisie Dobbs (reviewed here) and Leaving Everything Most Loved (reviewed here), I have some very mixed feelings about A Dangerous Place.

It certainly is dangerous – Maisie is in Gibraltar in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. While the war did not touch Gibraltar directly, refugees fled into or through the city every day. Sometimes a trickle, sometimes in droves. The British officialdom at this normally quiet and tiny outpost of the Empire was officially overwhelmed.

And Maisie throws herself into the middle of the mess, because it is preferable to throwing herself into the arms of death, one way or another. At the end of her rope, she finds purpose again in Gibraltar by going back to her own beginnings, at least professionally.

Why is Maisie so close to self-destruction? That’s the hard part of this story. It has been four years since the end of Leaving Everything Most Loved, and in that intervening period, Maisie has been surprisingly happily married, pregnant, miscarried and widowed. All those harrowing events are dealt with in a series of letters that form the first chapter of the book.

Maisie spends the entire rest of the story dealing with her overwhelming grief while trying to put the pieces of her life back together. It is a harrowing chain of events, and Maisie is still not past them enough to even function. She is on her way back to England from India when she realizes that she cannot yet bear the thought of seeing all the places that she and James knew together, so she disembarks at Gibraltar in order to prevent being overcome by her own depression.

Only Maisie could find a dead body under these circumstances, but find one she does. And slowly, reluctantly, Maisie takes on the unofficial case of determining how and why Sebastian Babayoff really died. Was he just a victim of a desperate refugee and unfortunate circumstances? Or, as Maisie begins to suspect was Babayoff murdered because he was a young, foolish and occasionally intrepid photographer who took the right picture at the very much wrong time.

As Maisie investigates, she begins her return to the practices that her mentor Maurice Blanche instilled in her before she fell in love with James or even thought that she might marry someday. Taking up the threads of her old profession helps her to root herself back into the person she was before tragedy struck her life. She is keen to hunt down the truth, and to befuddle the agents of the British Secret Service who are tailing her, seemingly at the request of her father-in-law and for her own good.

Maisie has never had much truck with people who attempt to do things for her supposed own good, especially when they neglect to consult her about what that good might be. But she still feels herded and manipulated at every turn.

With good reason – the Secret Service is attempting to herd her towards a conclusion of their making. In the end, Maisie understands much, but does not completely condone their reasoning.

And at last she finds a purpose that she can believe in again for herself. So she gives everyone the slip and returns to a profession in which she can do the greatest good, and hopefully find her way back to a self that can carry on.

Escape Rating B+: As I said at the beginning, A Dangerous Place gave me a lot of mixed feelings. That being said, I still love Maisie herself and I remain very interested in her journey.

However, I found the way that the author dealt with the tumultuous years between Leaving Everything Most Loved and A Dangerous Place left me feeling a bit short-changed. While I realize that the Maisie Dobbs series is mostly about Maisie’s cases and not about Maisie’s love life, events that cause so many profound changes and her and her circumstances deserve more than a few letters.

I would love to have seen a book where Maisie solves a case in Canada during the time of her marriage that allowed the author to cover the tragedies and still tell a Maisie story. I like Maisie and wanted to be there for her and with her. I say this fully recognizing that this is the author’s series and not mine and that it is up to her to write the books her way. But I missed the sense of following along with Maisie during those four eventful years.

And because we weren’t with Maisie, we see her grief at second hand, instead of being in there with her. She talks about it and feels it (and occasionally takes morphine for it) but we are standing outside it and wondering when she is going to pick herself and get on with things. Because the Maisie we know and often love is a person who gets on with things no matter what.

The circumstances in Gibraltar are incredibly murky. History tells us that the Spanish Civil War was a proxy war for the Great Powers before the start of World War II. And even though we know that Britain’s policy in the Chamberlain years was to appease Nazi Germany at all costs, it is hard to see those costs being weighed up in lives lost and villages destroyed.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Guernica by Pablo Picasso

The bombing of the Spanish/Basque village of Guernica that drives so many people to action in the story was immortalized in a famous painting by Pablo Picasso, also titled Guernica. The world tour of the painting brought the attention of the world to the Spanish Civil War, just as the action itself brings the war home to so many people in the story.

But Maisie spends a lot of the time in A Dangerous Place muddled and confused. While taking on Sebastian Babayoff’s case brings her out of herself and out of her depression, she has a difficult time picking her way through the loose threads and the dangling red herrings placed in her way by the British Secret Service. Her confusion becomes ours, and in the end Babayoff himself is lost. We have come to expect more from Maisie.

The ending of the case is not satisfying. The ends have been forced to justify the means by the exigencies of an empire that is fading. What does satisfy is the way that Maisie takes charge of her own life at the end, even if she has to run away again in order to achieve it.

I am looking forward to more of Maisie’s adventures. Now that the Secret Service has her fixed in their sights, I expect her to do some very interesting and hush hush work for the Government in the impending war.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

leaving everything most loved by jacqueline winspearFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #10
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: March 26, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The death of an Indian immigrant leads Maisie Dobbs into a dangerous yet fascinating world and takes her in an unexpected direction in this latest chapter of the New York Times bestselling series “that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).

London, 1933. Two months after the body of an Indian woman named Usha Pramal is found in the brackish water of a South London canal, her brother, newly arrived in England, turns to Maisie Dobbs to find out the truth about her death. Not only has Scotland Yard made no arrests, evidence indicates that they failed to conduct a full and thorough investigation.

Before her death, Usha was staying at an ayah’s hostel alongside Indian women whose British employers turned them out into the street–penniless and far from their homeland–when their services were no longer needed. As Maisie soon learns, Usha was different from the hostel’s other lodgers. But with this discovery comes new danger: another Indian woman who had information about Usha is found murdered before she can talk to Maisie.

As Maisie is pulled deeper into an unfamiliar yet captivating subculture, her investigation becomes clouded by the unfinished business of a previous case as well as a growing desire to see more of the world, following in the footsteps of her former mentor, Maurice Blanche. And there is her lover, James Compton, who gives her an ultimatum she cannot ignore.

Bringing a crucial chapter in the life and times of Maisie Dobbs to a close, Leaving Everything Most Loved marks a pivotal moment in this remarkable series.

My Review:

maisie dobbs by jacqueline winspearThis review is part of the “Month of Maisie Readalong” at TLC Book Tours. For those interested in reviews of the rest of the series, the list is here. Since the readalong starts with the second book in the series, Birds of a Feather, if you want to start your reviewing with Maisie’s introduction in Maisie Dobbs, you can look at my review last week.

We’ll be back next week with the review of the most recent book in the series, A Dangerous Place.

While I have not yet had the pleasure (and it will definitely be a pleasure!) of reading all the books in this series, I am very glad that I read the first book, Maisie Dobbs, before Leaving Everything Most Loved. While I don’t yet know all the experiences that have led Maisie to this point, all of the characters in Maisie’s life, all those people who are most loved that she leaves, are introduced at the beginning of the series.

When Leaving starts, Maisie is contemplating two very different futures. Her lover, James Compton, is going to Canada with his employer to work on airplane designs for the war that Churchill sees is coming. In the 1933 setting of this book, Churchill was experiencing his years in the political wilderness, and very few people believed him. History as we know it shows that he was right, but in 1933 he and anyone who believed as he did, were definitely in the minority.

But to go with James to Canada, Maisie will finally need to make up her mind to marry him. And she isn’t ready to give up her independence. Also, James’ employer is a unconscionable blackguard. She and James both know that he is willing to commit murder in the name of his greater good, and that he is too influential to bring to justice. Maisie believes he is right about the upcoming war, but she strongly disapproves of his methods of getting there. Especially since one of her own, her assistant Billy Beale, was almost a victim of his machinations.

Maisie herself is drawn to a different journey. She wants to retrace some of the steps of her late mentor, Maurice Blanche, and travel the world. She particularly wants to see India with her own eyes.

But before she can make a final decision, India comes to her in the person of Usha Pramal, an Indian woman of Maisie’s own age who came to England many years before as a governess in the service of a British family. Usha has been murdered, and her brother is referred to Maisie to help find her killer.

Because Usha was Indian, the local police don’t seem to have tried terribly hard to find her murderer. Maisie will try very hard indeed.

Her quest to find the killer takes her to the many and varied faces of the Anglo-Indian community in London, and all the ways that unprotected young women can be taken advantage of, especially when their skin is brown. At the same time she sees women who have adapted and adopted into the community, in many different but equally successful ways – including an Indian woman who has become a successful part of the Anglo intellectual community in her own right, while maintaining a marvelous marriage of equals with her English husband.

Maisie turns to Chaudhary Jones for both personal and professional advice, as she works her way through the case and her own personal dilemma.

The solution to the case stretches all the way back to India, and into the darkest places of the human heart and mind.

Maisie’s own solution was in her heart all along.

Escape Rating A: At 3 am, I closed the book with a very satisfied sigh. Even without having read the middle books in the series, Leaving successfully closes up a lot of the loose ends in Maisie’s personal and professional life, not always successfully from the perspective of the end being tied up. The first chapter of her life as an independent practitioner in London has come to an end. Her unfinished business is finished, and she has taken care of those she feels responsible for. It is time for Maisie to move on to the next chapter in her life.

Her last two cases turn out to be one case. Neither Maisie nor her mentor believed in coincidence, and that proves true again here. She is looking both for a missing boy and a murderer. While these two things should not be tied into each other, they are. Although not quite the way that one expects.

What carries the story, and what makes this series so interesting, is the character of Maisie Dobbs herself. She begins the series as a costermonger’s daughter, goes into service, receives an excellent if unorthodox education, becomes a nurse in WW1, and finally becomes a private investigator. Not by accident either, but definitely by intention as well as skill.

If her experiences as a nurse resemble Bess Crawford (A Duty to the Dead) and her education is more than a bit like Mary Russell (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice), then her life as an independent woman and private investigator looks more than a bit like Phryne Fisher in Kerry Greenwood’s series beginning with Cocaine Blues. Although Maisie is deliberately nowhere near as flashy as Phryne.

Maisie has assistants who work for her, and one of her major concerns with traveling aboard is that she feels that she must provide for them. Not charity, she wants to make sure they have new jobs before she leaves. She also needs to make sure that her father is comfortable. By the time of this story, Maisie is 36, so her father must be in his late 50s or early 60s at the very least. He is still working, but is not as young as he used to be. Maisie fears leaving him alone, and worries that if she travels too long she may not see him again. Some of her worries are resolved, but some are simply a risk she feels she must take.

She delays a final decision with James. He is very patient, and also tries to understand Maisie’s reluctance. But Maisie makes her decision and her conundrum very real for readers. While women have more independence than they did before the war, there are some rights that she will lose if she marries. Also James worries about the danger of her work, which is quite real. If they marry, he will be in a position to force her to stop.

And of course, there is the problem that she trusts James’ boss about as far as she could throw the man. Maybe less. She would be tying her life and her livelihood to a man who she believes is a cold-blooded killer who is always able to make excuses for himself or have them made for him.

But before she can think about leaving, she still has two cases to solve. In solving the murder of Usha Pramal, she runs into prejudice on every side. And in the case of the missing boy, she finds yet again that the wounds of the late war were not confined to the battlefield, and that the consequences are felt by an ever-widening circle of those who did not serve themselves, but were inextricably linked to those who did.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

maisie dobbs by jacqueline winspearFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #1
Length: 309 pages
Publisher: Soho Crime
Date Released: July 1, 2003
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

My Review:

Any number of people have recommended this series to me, so when the opportunity came along to review the latest books in the series for tours, it seemed like it was time to read at least the first book in the series.

And now I understand why so many people told me to read this series – it’s awesome.

Maisie reminds me more than a bit of Bess Crawford, from Charles Todd’s marvelous series, also named after its nurse/detective protagonist, that starts with A Duty to the Dead. I think that anyone who likes one will probably like the other.

Both Bess and Maisie were nurses during World War I, and the experience changed them forever. Both women have also become private detectives, although that is where the differences between them begin to appear.

Unlike Bess’ story, the bulk of Maisie’s book and her series take place after the war. We do see Maisie’s background, and the tragedy she experienced during the war, but she has moved into the post-war future, and this story takes place in 1929, with flashbacks to earlier years.

Bess is still in the midst of the war.

Also, Bess got into her detecting by accident, where Maisie has deliberately chosen to be a private enquiry agent as a career, and was trained for it, in a rather unusual apprenticeship, by her older friend and mentor Maurice Blanche. In Maisie’s deliberate choice of detection as a career, as well as the methods of Blanche, Maisie reminds me more than a bit of Mary Russell in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, although firmly without the budding romance.

Maisie’s romantic inclinations, when finally aroused, are fixed on a young man of her own generation, but not one of her own class. Maisie is a costermonger’s daughter who was blessed with a large amount of intelligence and a great deal of luck. She is not of the upper class, or even the middle class, and her apprenticeship begins while she is in service at one of the great houses in the years before the war.

So, in this story, we see Maisie setting up shop as a detective in her own right. Her mentor has finally retired, and it is time for Maisie to try her own wings. Her first major case starts out simply, a man is concerned that his wife’s unwillingness to divulge her whereabouts means that she is covering up for an affair.

Maisie is not happy that her first solo case starts out about a love triangle. But of course it doesn’t end there. In 1929 the late war was still fresh in people’s memories. In this case the war hangs over both the young woman she is investigating and Maisie herself.

Celia Davenham lost her first sweetheart to the war, as so many of that generation did. But he didn’t die, he was horribly disfigured and retreated to a rural farm for similarly injured soldiers called The Retreat. Where he died under mysterious circumstances and Celia has never quite gotten over her grief and her guilt at leaving him after his return.

Maisie discovers that this case is not simple, and that The Retreat may not be quite as benevolent as it first appears. In confronting the secrets kept at The Retreat, Maisie finds herself confronting her own secrets and leftover guilts from the War.

She also nearly gets her assistant killed.

Escape Rating A: There are three stories being told here – one is the story of Maisie setting up her own office and investigating her first solo case. The second is Maisie’s own story, how she rose from housemaid to private detective, with stops at both university and nursing.

Even when Maisie is forced or chooses to put off her own dreams for the greater good, she is always learning. She especially learns a lot about human psychology in her study of philosophy. Her tutorial from Maurice Blanche is certainly singular in its way of dealing with what people are saying in their silences.

Maurice Blanche and Sherlock Holmes would have gotten on like a house on fire. They get to the same place by different but often equally cerebral methods.

The third story in the book is the story of Maisie’s own romantic tragedy. The feelings that she is suppressing form a cloud around her, and the way that she forestalls her own memories until the very end keep the reader from guessing exactly what happened. We all know it ends badly, but we just don’t know how badly until Maisie finally lets her own emotions out, and begins to reach a resolution about her own past.

Maisie Dobbs tells a powerful story about a complicated woman, and about the way that war scars any who come near it.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.